Visual Effects Degree: A Good Investment?

Many film schools now offer visual effects degrees in addition to the standard film school degree. Technically, this is a much sounder investment than a film degree, as jobs in the VFX industry are ample and should continue to grow as 3D technology gets more popular and CGI becomes part of nearly every major movie made.

Consider that the original Total Recall made back in the 90s didn’t employ many computer based VFX pros. The explosions and effects from those days were mostly models and actual pyrotechnics. But now that the movie is being remade (unfortunately) you can bet your ass the payroll includes tons of VFX artists for explosions, gunfire, and backgrounds galore.

But once again, as with film, the internet and the availability of cheaper technology and training has turned things upside down.

Visual Effects Jobs: Degree or Reel?

When I first got to LA I had a temp job doing data entry at Activision (thanks to my prestigious film degree, I’m sure). Part of my job was to file and sort resumes from candidates for programming and, more importantly, 3D artist and VFX positions at the company.

Across the board, I was shocked by what I saw. (This was 6 years ago, before I realized what a waste college is). The incredible portfolios and resumes in front of me rarely included any formal training in After Effects, 3D Studio Max, Maya, or any of the other VFX software that was around back then. Sure there were some students who went to art schools, but many of the most in demand applicants were just kids who taught themselves how to do these things.

And I realized that many of these under 25 year old geeks were being pursued by major companies for 6 figure positions.

Once again, the main factor had nothing to do with the schooling itself, but rather the quality of the images, animations, and effects you could create.

Cut to 2012, where a few thousand dollars can buy you your own multimedia workstation with professional VFX software and training tutorials. The big question is: what’s the difference between training yourself on these platforms versus school?

The simple answer is: about $85,000.

Many sites offer online training and walkthroughs training you in about every geeky specialty you can imagine. Other software companies like RedGiant include detailed tutorials on how to use their software.

At the end of the day I believe that a driven, smart, creative young person with a thirst for VFX can teach themselves a lot faster and cheaper than attending any school.

HOWEVER, compared with film school it seems like a much better investment. It’s completely absurd to pay $40,000 a year to learn where to put lights in a scene or what an f stop does. But paying that much to get personalized instruction on these complex computer programs makes more sense. Additionally the job placement stats for these majors is pretty darn good with good reason, these jobs are in demand.

By the same token, you can always find experienced VFX artists who are offering their expertise up for much less online. Personally, when I see what some kids are able to do with just a little bit of toying around with After Effects, it blows my mind. Consider this video “Cardboard Warfare”:

These guys used some imagination and some simple After Effects techniques to create realistic gunfire and action. They also used social media to make the video viral and it has more than 5 million views, all with no film school.

This other video from some guys in Italy is inspired by Dragonball Z. Fast forward to 1 minute for the good action, but they combined some FX with some decent fight choreography. If they’d shot this on a higher res camera and actually had a story it would be a kick ass part of a movie… again with no film school:

And this is just from a couple of people who probably got free training off the internet.

I suggest checking out, which only costs about $300 for 3 classes and compare their cirriculum to whatever is offered at the film schools that are charging $40,000 a year and see what you think.

And finally there is which has one of the best free AE tutorials available. And I’m sure the same info they give away for free here costs a ton in film school.


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